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Bridging the gap: an interview with IDK

Duality and juxtaposition with one of hip-hop’s rising stars

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IDK is the product of the old, and the new. Describing his sound as bridging the gap between A Tribe Called Quest and Gucci Mane, IDK creates a mixture of traditional hip-hop, and trap with a conscious, concept driven edge. Previous projects like Sub Trap and Empty Bank have seen him exploring the concepts of crime and money from both ignorant, and introspective points of view, highlighting both sides of the narratives he creates in his songs. However, for his debut album IWASVERYBAD, IDK teamed up with Adult Swim for an episodic, visual rollout, as he explores the non-fictional topic only he could tackle; his life. Featuring everybody from MF Doom to Chief Keef, IWASVERYBAD sets IDK apart from his contemporaries in a huge way.

In order to gain more insight on this unique approach to hip-hop, I talked to IDK about his new album, his inspirations, and the divide in hip-hop today. With a tight grip and a clear vision, IDK is boastful that he is bound to be a legend.

IDK stands for Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge. Can you explain to me what you mean by that? 

Basically my whole thing is duality. When delivering knowledge sometimes it sounds like you’re preaching, so I think the most effective way to approach it is to combine it with the music and sounds that I enjoy.

I know in the past you were previous known as ‘Jay IDK’. What inspired you to drop the ‘Jay’ from your moniker?

Honestly, it always supposed to be just IDK [laughs]. I think people around me called me Jay because they know me, and as things got bigger it caught on.

Every project I’ve heard from you this far has all been strung together by a specific concept. Why is it important to you to present your work this way?

I think because it’s just what I personally like to do. I really just do what I want and like when it comes to music, and hope that it works out. Especially nowadays, I just make music for myself.

Is there any particular concept albums that acted as inspiration for this direction?

Everything Eminem has done to me is number one, and of course albums like Illmatic, and everything J.Cole and Kendrick are doing. These artists may not have a particular story or concept, but the cohesiveness of their albums and the way the tracks blend into each other is what really inspires me.

What fuels your creative drive?

Traveling is what helps me the most when it comes to writing music. When I’m on the road and in motion, that’s when most of my ideas come to me. Either that or when I’m literally doing nothing at all—that’s when I make my best music.

How did growing up in Maryland craft the way you move, and act today? How has it reflected your music?

It’s again, part of that duality. Where I’m from, you can come from a good neighbourhood and a good family but still be involved in the hood, because everything is together and next to each other. The way growing up in Maryland helped my music is putting two things that don’t match together, and creating a sort of paradox in my sound.

You’ve described your sound as “bridging the gap between Gucci Mane & A Tribe Called Quest” what do those artists mean to you?

A Tribe Called Quest laid down the foundation for mellow, introspective rap, while Gucci Mane laid down the foundation for trap music. These are two elements of hip-hop you usually don’t see together, and I feel like I’m closing the gap between them and combining those sounds. Kanye West once said I’m the gap like Banana Republic and Old Navy, and I think I’m the modern rendition of that.

Do you think it’s important to bridge that gap in hip-hop today? Especially with their being such a divide between the new and old school?

For sure, there’s a huge divide in rap right now. People don’t like each other. It’s a war right now. I think I’m here to show people that you can like both. You don’t have to choose one side. I’ve heard a lot of people say they hated Chief Keef until they heard him on my album. I’ve heard people say they hate trap until they heard me do it. I just want people to understand that music doesn’t always have to be lyrical, nor does it have to always be ignorant, it can be both.

Your new album feels a lot more personal than your last few projects. How did you know it was time to make your life the concept to an album?

I don’t really know man, it felt like it was time. One of the things I wanted to do before my debut album was to let people know what my history is. I have a story in hip-hop that doesn’t really fit, and no one really raps about what I’m rapping about. So with this project I wanted people to know who I am, and how I got to where I am today.

What were some of the pitfalls around creating a project around self-reflection? Did you struggle at times?

Nope—this was the easiest project for me to make in terms of writing. Of course post-production and mixing is always tedious but writing wise this just came naturally because I’ve lived it all before, and it felt good to tell my story on record.

The production on the album feels more like a seamless soundtrack for a movie, opposed to just a selection of beats. How did you go about picking the beats to help drive the concept? 

With the production, I really feel like I sound better over darker beats. With my last project Empty Bank, I feel like it wasn’t cohesive enough instrumental wise. With this new project, I feel like I realise who I am, what music I like, and what I sound good on. So putting those things together, I really aimed to make something super dark, and super cohesive. Even the brighter songs in the track list have a certain gloominess to them and overall I think the type of beats on this project encapsulate my sound as a whole.

You partnered up with Adult Swim for an episodic release over three weeks. What inspired you unveil the album in that nature?

Just realising that there’s no more rules in rap. It’s about how different you can make your album rollout, and I’ve always had weird, little ideas for things like that. So I wanted to do an episodic release with a TV component, and a company who is already infamously known for working with musicians is Adult Swim. So I reached out to them, and they were down.

Another artist who has infamously worked with Adult Swim is MF Doom and he’s also featured on your album. How did you link up with him to collaborate?

Jason Demarco from Adult Swim was the plug. He sent ‘Pizza Shop’ to MF Doom and he liked it and asked what the concept was. Three weeks later I had the verse.

There’s a series of other amazing collaborations on the album as well, such as Yung Gleesh, Swizz Beatz, and Del Tha Funky Homosapien. What did you learn working with these artists?

I learnt a lot from Swizz, just a lot of personal stuff. But Gleesh man, he gave me some huge inspiration in the studio. He said that I was going to get everything I wanted out of this album, and to not think about it too much.

Who else are you keen to work with in the future?

I really want to work with Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean, and Solange. They are bascially all I am listening to right now. 

IWASVERYBAD is a very rich album. What do you want listeners to gain from the experience?

Honestly, after the 30 minute duration, I just want people to know who I am.


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